[Photo courtesy of Nicole Tranter]

“Parents are doing the best they can,” Audrey Graham said, speaking of what she calls a child care “crisis” in Moab. “The situation is not optimal for parents or children.”

Moab Community Childcare is a group Graham was instrumental in assembling in 2016 to address child care issues in Moab.

Currently an informal organization, the board envisions becoming a nonprofit with a mission to “establish a licensed daycare in a facility upon request,” Graham said.

The board wants to connect individual persons, businesses, churches, schools or other entities that wish to provide child care, with the resources to get started. This would include assisting in conforming the space to state child care regulations, and employee recruitment and training.

Early on, Moab Community Childcare assessed which child care options are currently available in the community. It sees the greatest gap in infant care and for children under the age of 2.

In all of Moab’s licensed daycares combined, there is only enough space to care for about a dozen children under the age of 2. Crunching the numbers, Moab Community Childcare also realized that the space needed to be free, or very nearly so.

“It’s impossible to pay for a facility and staff only with the money you make from providing the care,” Graham said. “The long and short of it is, the facility needs to be no cost in order to pay the caregivers enough to make a living.”

As it moved forward in becoming a nonprofit, Moab Community Childcare saw the need to generate more precise data on the daycare gap for infants, to avoid relying on anecdotal evidence. To that end, it created a survey called the Childcare Community Needs Assessment.

Moab Community Childcare board member Libby Bailey said that the goal of the survey is to “make an appeal to the community” and rally support by demonstrating that child care is something that is relevant not just to parents, but also teachers, those in the realm of public health and even to businesses — part of the worker shortage in Moab could be attributable to a lack of child care.

Those who would like to take the survey can fill out paper copies at the Family Support Center, Moab Valley Multicultural Center, Seekhaven and Early Intervention’s Moab office. An online version is also available on the Moab Classifieds Facebook page.

Graham was inspired to work on expanding child care opportunities in Moab due to experiences she had as an early intervention specialist for South East Early Intervention Program. The program provides services to families with children 3 years of age and younger who have, or are at risk for, developmental delays or disabilities.

“We do visits in the home because that’s where very young children are, generally,” Graham said.

In the course of these home visits, Graham heard from numerous parents about their difficulties and frustrations in accessing child care so they can go to work. She saw some parents in this situation choose not to work at all; others left their young children in charge to care for even younger siblings.

“When an 8-year-old child answers the door, and the parents are not home, but the baby is home, you’re like, wow, what’s happening?” Graham said. “People are doing whatever they can because they have to.”

Sherilyn Sowell, director of the Family Support Center in Moab, said she has seen similar situations. “It’s just not safe,” Sowell said. “But that’s what parents are having to do to work.”

Sowell remembered a single mother who found a caregiver to watch her 8-year-old while she went to work, but not for her 7-month-old infant. So, she pulled the older child out of daycare to watch the baby. When Sowell learned about this, she directed the mother to bring both her children to the Family Support Center’s crisis nursery until another child care arrangement could be made.

“That is a crisis,” Sowell said. “That’s children at risk.”

“The Family Support Center,” Sowell emphasized, “is not a daycare.”

Rather, it’s an emergency child care service, but she said that they “do what they can” to provide child care to parents and guardians in a pinch while prioritizing more acute emergencies, such as children referred by the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) who are awaiting foster placement. The Family Support Center can take up to eight children at a time, or 10 children if no infants are present.

“There is a serious crisis in Grand County for child care for ages zero to two,” Sowell said.

Sowell said that, while there are a few providers who take infants, state regulations prohibit them from watching more than two infants at a time.

Graham also commented on the one-provider-to-two-infants ratio, which is the rule for child care done in a home setting.

In a child care center, one provider could legally watch up to four infants, though centers often do not take infants at all.

Graham said that is likely because the state requirements on infant care make it difficult to incorporate into a successful business model. However, she said that the state restrictions “are generally a good thing, because it protects our kids from inadequate care.”

Initially, Graham said, there was some concern on the part of Moab Community Childcare that existing local child care providers might see them as trying to take away their business. But, in reaching out to those providers, Moab Community Childcare found understanding, and even enthusiasm, for their goals.

“They completely understood,” Graham said. “They hate turning people away.”

“In the spring, I get phone calls literally every day,” Nicole Tranter said. Tranter is a licensed in-home child care provider. “I’m not going to be able to accommodate that. I have a huge waiting list.”

Tranter said she does not advertise her business, but gets interest purely by word-of-mouth. She often has nowhere to refer the people who call her when she is full.

“I already know everyone else is full, too,” Tranter said.

It is particularly difficult, Tranter added, for the many low-income families who need to use a licensed daycare so they can utilize the daycare subsidy available through the Department of Workforce Services.

Tranter also noted that part-time workers, and workers with irregular schedules, are particularly difficult to serve for child care providers, who have to fill their child care spaces exactly to capacity to meet their own financial needs.

Sowell and Graham both encourage anyone interested in becoming a licensed child care provider to contact them.

Graham said that, while her group is not yet an official nonprofit, it is aware of one space that is potentially available for no cost to a daycare provider. Graham also encouraged any businesses or other establishments who may be interested in hosting a daycare space — for example, to have on-site care for the children of employees — to contact her as well.

Sowell also offered assistance from the Family Support Center in navigating the daycare provider licensing process.

“People want to do it, but they get intimidated. We’ll help you jump through the hoops,” Sowell said.

Audrey Graham may be reached by phone at 435-259-8664. Sherilyn Sowell may be reached at the Family Support Center by calling 435-259-1658.

Scarcity of child care is especially acute for children under the age of 2

“When an 8-year-old child answers the door, and the parents are not home, but the baby is home, you’re like, wow, what’s happening? People are doing whatever they can because they have to.”